Encino farmers market is a top choice for fresh produce in the Valley

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The 19-year-old Encino farmers market is one of the two best in the San Fernando Valley, because of its large size and quality, and its preponderance of farmers over prepared food. It’s on a par with Studio City, which the manager, Carole Gallegos, ran until 2011, but it’s in a pleasanter location, in a park, with better parking. The market’s earnings go to ONEgeneration, a respected nonprofit that provides care to seniors and children.

One recent addition is award-winning Nuvo olive oil, from century-old trees in Oroville, in the Sacramento Valley. It is available in three blends made from Mission olives, with a few Manzanillos and Arbequinas: delicate (best for cooking and dressing), medium and robust (grassy and peppery, ideal for dipping bread). The new-crop early-harvest oil will be available in December, say Joshua and Nathan Mardigian, brothers from Newport Beach who saved from the bulldozers an abandoned 25-acre orchard owned by their family. They started offering the oil in March. They also sell at the La Cañada Flintridge, Westlake Village, Sunset Strip and Monterey Park markets.

Givens Farms of Goleta is an anchor of the market, with fresh and tender Blue Lake beans, dependably sweet and crunchy carrots, and succulent, aromatic fennel. Another prime vegetable seller, Underwood Family Farms, has multicolored, T-shaped turban squash, a spectacular heirloom that unfortunately has coarse, watery flesh; for actual eating, they have excellent acorn, delicata and butternut squash. Another organic vegetable standout, Tutti Frutti Farms of Lompoc, has huge, pristine leeks and multicolored Indian corn, which is very decorative but tastes starchy, at least with normal cooking techniques. A Hmong grower from Sanger, Changseng Thao, has gorgeous red dandelion greens, Thai chiles, purple and green long beans and baby bok choy.


High-quality small fruit farms from the San Joaquin Valley are rarer than casual shoppers might think. A good catch for Encino is Burkdoll Farms, which has grown in Visalia since 1858 and mostly sells at Santa Barbara area markets. Their main crop is stone fruit, so their season will be ending in a few weeks, but farmer Todd Burkdoll’s daughter Katriya, who is selling in Encino while she attends college locally, still has a rare but intriguing experimental grape variety named Crispy (a.k.a. Crunchy or Autumn Spice). At Cal State Fresno, Todd Burkdoll helped test the variety, which is large, very hard and crunchy, like an apple, with a sweet, neutral flavor. It never made it to public release because of concerns about its slight smack of astringency and vestigial seeds, but he was allowed to grow it himself; a friend, Jay Scott of Dinuba, also has a planting, and sells the grapes at the Santa Monica Wednesday market.

Rancho Santa Cecilia of Carpinteria brings very good white sapotes, a relative of citrus, though you’d never guess from the flavor, like sweet banana custard. It’s also prime season for pink-fleshed, intensely perfumed guavas from Sycamore Hill Ranch of Fillmore. Bernard Ranches of Riverside and Valley Center has new-crop Bearss limes, at their seasonal peak of abundance, and excellent old-crop grapefruit, both pink and red, which by now are as sweet as California grapefruit can get.

Jesus Mendez of Chuy Berries has large, sweet-tart Prime-Ark 45 blackberries, a new primocane-bearing variety that has revolutionized production of this fruit. Recently bred by the University of Arkansas, the variety bears on first-year canes, rather than second-year wood like traditional floricane forms, so it doesn’t need overwintering to produce a crop; farmers can manipulate planting schedules to harvest virtually year-round, as long as the berries themselves don’t get zapped by frost. The berries are just as good as those from most older varieties.

The market’s layout was recently reconfigured to accommodate expansion by an adjacent school, but sales have increased 30% since manager Gallegos took over two and a half years ago, she says. After her success at Encino became clear, she was hired to run the South Pasadena market, another strong venue. Born near Manchester, England, Gallegos still speaks in a Lancashire accent that makes her sound like a player on a daffy British sitcom, which along with her easygoing manner has endeared her to customers and farmers.

Encino farmers market, 17400 Victory Blvd., between White Oak Avenue and Balboa Boulevard, Sunday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.